Larry Dapsis, the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension entomologist for Barnstable County, is on the lookout for Cape Cod's first longhorn tick. A year ago, none were known to be in the United States. Native to Asia, the longhorn tick was first found in November 2017 in Hunterdon County, N.J. This tick has now been seen in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Arkansas.
"Once I heard it was outside New York City, I knew it was on our doorstep," Dapsis said. "It will bite people," he said, "and if it feeds on infected mice, it could potentially transmit lime disease." The CDC in Atlanta is currently engaged in research to determine just how likely disease transmission by the longhorn tick is, he said.
The longhorn tick could arrive on the Cape in multiple ways. It most likely will be transmitted by animals, including possibly birds, Dapsis noted. And given the number of tourists arriving on the Cape daily from New Jersey and the mid-Atlantic states, it is very likely to be introduced on a dog, a horse or another pet.
The tick, known as the cattle tick in New Zealand and the bush tick in Australia, will feed on local wildlife as well as on cats, dogs and humans. They are likely initially to have more impact on livestock and wildlife than humans, Dapsis said.
"Right now, I'm very concerned for dairy farmers and people who own goats, horses and alpaca," he said.
The longhorn is a rusty brown/red color hard tick, with no distinctive white markings, about three to four millimeters long. Of note is the ease with which they reproduce. "The female tick can lay an egg without mating," Dapsis said. "A couple of ticks can start a rapid buildup...it's easy for them to establish themselves."
One thing is clear, Dapsis said. "This is not a demon tick." The same protective measures recommended for deer, dog and lonestar ticks are effective in warding off longhorn ticks. That includes using insect repellent with Deet, wearing long, light-colored clothing and throwing clothing in the dryer after checking for ticks. Detailed information is available at www.capecodextension.org/ticks. Although early August to mid-September can be a relatively low point for infection, as the deer tick eggs are hatching into larvae which don't transmit disease, vigilance remains important.
Treating clothing with the insecticide permethrin is highly effective, Dapsis says, adding that he treats all his clothing, particularly pants and footwear, with permethrin. "Spray your clothing and it lasts through six washings," he noted. "You gain a huge preventative advantage." Dapsis has been successful in convincing all major garden centers on the Cape to carry permethrin, with good results. "It's out of stock more than it's in," he noted.
"I can't rule out that the longhorn tick is already here," Dapsis said. "We haven't seen it but our spring surveillance might be more successful." In the meanwhile, he hopes to hear from residents and visitors alike. "If you see an unusual tick give me a call," he stressed. His phone number is 508-375-6642. Dapsis knows that people often have questions and concerns about ticks and he is happy to provide answers. "I want people to find me," he said with a smile.